With his busy schedule as a best-selling author, NY Times contributor, Founder/Publisher of the popular FinAid.org and Fastweb.com websites, noted financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz graciously took time out to provide some key insights for parents.
Q1. How early should a college-bound student start searching for scholarships?
A. Students should start searching for scholarships as soon as possible. The sooner you start, the fewer deadlines you will miss. This increases your chances of winning a scholarship.
Unfortunately, many families wait until the spring of the senior year in high school to start thinking about how to pay for college. By then, they've missed half of the deadlines during the senior year alone. There are also many scholarships that may be won in younger grades, even in elementary school!
For example, a list of scholarships open to children under age 13 may be found at www.finaid.or/age13. This is list of scholarships is available on the FinAid site but not Fastweb because of a federal privacy law, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), prohibits collecting information from children under age 13. Scholarship matching sites must necessarily collect information from the student in ordr to match the student with scholarships for which the student is eligible. Accordingly, free scholarship matching services do not allow underage children to register. FinAid does not require registration, so the list of scholarships for elementary and middle school students may appear there.
Q2. What are the most common mistakes families make when it comes to the scholarship search and the financial-aid process?
A. The first mistake families make is to not apply for financial aid. You can't get aid if you don't apply. Another common mistake is waiting until the last minute. Parents should start saving for college as soon as possible because their greatest asset is time. If they start saving at birth, about one third of the college savings goal will come from earnings. Some families assume that they will be penalized for saving. But the penalty is slight, so that the family who has saved will have more options than the family who has not saved. It is worthwhile to save even if college matriculation is imminent. Every dollar you save is a dollar less you'll have to borrow. Every dollar you borrow will cost you about two dollars by the time your repay the debt.
Another common mistake is skipping over the small scholarships or scholarships that involve writing essays. These scholarships are easier to win and the money adds up. They are also good practice for other scholarship and college admissions applications. After your first half dozen or so scholarship applications, you will find that you can reuse and adapt earlier essays, so it gets easier with each successive application. Students should also answer the optional questions on scholarship matching sites, since these questions are there to trigger the inclusion of specific awards. Students who answer the optional questions tend to match about twice as many scholarships as students who answer just the required questions.
Part 2 of our interview will discuss the challenges facing African-American students when it comes to winning scholarships and a thorough analysis of evaluating college affordability based on college selection and career choices.
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